The Voldemort of the Mental Health World (Part 1 of 2)
/ Author: Quentin Steen
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The Voldemort of the Mental Health World (Part 1 of 2)

β€œIs this real? Or is it just happening in my head?”

By Quentin Steen, Representative

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but a while ago I crawled into bed intending to continue watching the NFL game I had started watching on the couch moments earlier. Instead, I was sucked into the last half of the movie my wife had fallen asleep to.

The movie that managed to dethrone my obsession for all things football? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

For the four people in North America who haven’t seen the movie, it is the final episode in the Harry Potter series. Without spoiling it for the unfortunate four, the storyline comes full circle to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione search for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord as the final battle rages on at Hogwarts.

The part of the movie that caught my attention and stuck with me until I could put pen to paper was near the end of the movie. Harry travels into the forest to meet death at Voldemort’s hands only to awaken to find himself at King’s Cross Station with Professor Dumbledore instead.

Somewhere between this life and the next, Harry and Dumbledore discuss the recent events that led him there and to the decision that he must make—stay or return. Ultimately, Harry decides to take physical form and return to the forest to help his friends defeat the Death Eaters and Voldemort.

Before he does, Harry turns to Dumbledore and asks, “Tell me one last thing. Is this real? Or is it just happening in my head?”

Without hesitation, Dumbledore responds, “Of course, it’s happening inside your head, Harry. Why should that mean that it’s not real?”

This is the part that stuck to my brain like a wand in the hand of a wizard.

The question and its answer have a close connection to the world of mental health. How so? Glad you asked Mister Potter.

Stigma is the Voldemort in the world of mental health. Its destructive power exits because we allow it to. Stigma, defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person,” not only dismisses people’s mental health, in its worst form, it also ignores the individual.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, 65 percent of Canadian workers say they would not disclose a mental health problem to their employer for fear of repercussions.

Sometimes, people don’t disclose out of fear that they won’t know how to handle facing the reality. Sometimes, it’s out of ignorance because they haven’t investigated the signs and symptoms of their mental health challenge. Sometimes, it’s because of deep-seated cultural or religious shame attached to mental illness.

But the most common stigmatic statement I hear reflects the conversation at King’s Cross: “It’s not real. It’s all in your head.” 

It’s a statement to which my reply is, “Yes, that’s right. It is in your head.” And the data supports this reality.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information published a report in 2009–2010. Admittedly, the report is over 10 years old, but its findings demonstrate the notion that the mental health issues that are “all in our heads” are also very real.

The finding of 10 years ago is just as sobering today. Fifteen percent of Canadian hospital discharges in 2009–2010 were specifically for mental health problems, resulting in three million days in hospital and psychiatric facilities.

Despite the fact that our mental health is just as real as our physical health, we often ignore its presence. One of the most significant reasons why is the difference between the physical and psychological realms: one you can see easily; the other isn’t as visible to the naked eye and can remain hidden to most.

When I used to work with the Canadian ski patrol, it was easy to identify a compound fracture. I could see it when I was assessing a patient.

But depression? That’s an entirely different animal.

Unlike a broken arm, you can hide depression—unless those around you who know what to look for.

In the world of Harry Potter, those with magical powers could see a world beyond the temporal—one that was just as real. Hogwarts was real. Similarly, those who have experienced mental health issues first-hand know its reality.

As I mentioned in my earlier Mental Health Moments, I have clinical depression. For those like me, we have an intimate knowledge of its signs and symptoms, and we know what to look and listen for.

The Voldemort of the mental health world would like nothing more than to stay alive and grow in power, destroying what threatens our existence by continuing to feed on our fears, ignorance, shame, or whatever drives our stigmatic sentiments.

At some point, for the sake of ourselves and those we love, the Harry Potter in us needs to rise up, face the destructive presence of stigma head on, and refuse to leave the battle until it’s vanquished.

What might that look like? Meet me at Platform 9¾ at Hogsmeade Station and climb aboard our next Mental Health Moment. No wands necessary. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. 😊

Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!

4 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic

  1. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, CLAC has a number of resources and interactive tools available to help you at My Health and Wellness.
  2. Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
  3. WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.
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